Monday, December 22, 2008


How many times did my uncle, tell me the story of how the universe was formed. With his index finger he would draw the line of a rainbow through the air and tell tales about it's formation in the aftermath of light rainfall, with the sun still shining bright. I still remember, I was in standard two or three then and whenever my uncle realized that concepts were not settling distinctly in my mind, he would pull an edition of Britannica encyclopedia from the book rack and show me the details.

Well, he was to me, my Poppins uncle. I used to visit his house on Saturdays after school, (we used to have half day school on Saturdays) and return back on Sunday night, so that the regular school routine from Monday was not neglected. Every time when I used to leave his place, on a Sunday night, it was a sad faced me, tears rolling down my eyes and a tantrum-filled goodbye. This man, in his late 50s then was a member of the teaching faculty in one of well known technical institutes in India, National Institute of Technology, Rourkela.

I always felt the separation anxiety while leaving on Sunday nights for a number of reasons. First and foremost was, Monday means back to school, getting streamlined for the regular monotonous life again. Other than that, those two days spent in the college campus were literally doses of middle class pampered treatment. Those who have seen any of the IITs or National Institute of Technology or IISc campus, can appreciate better, when I saw the campus is vast, open, lush green, widespread and Brobdingnagian. These are mini townships in themselves and the staff quarters are generally situated in one corner of the unit. Staff quarters have open space and the garden within each quarter's boundary provided the perfect pitch for a game of cricket, cycling, and just run around among the guava, mango and litchi trees playing hide and seek. At evenings, rush to the college campus open-air theater and watch a movie, (am sure this is sort of a ritual in every good campus, of screening movies on weekends at night) and fall asleep in my uncle’s lap half way through the movie.

More than all these, he was one who taught me to write perfectly within the four lines in my notebook to master cursive writing. He was never a teacher to me, just that I felt it more fun and interesting to do something when he asked me to do so. He was the one who instilled in me the pleasure of reading since I was a kid, grew up with Enid Blyton, Hardy Boys books, Tintin and Amar Chitra Katha comics, National Geographic Society magazines, etc.

My downhearted and blue departure from his place on a Sunday night was always buoyed up by a simple gift from my uncle every time. Yes, it's every time. A pack of Poppins and a bar of 5-Star chocolate. So don't you feel, it was pampering, when I had to request my parents many a times to get this share of candies during a 5 day week's time. Fullto masti, reading comics, encyclopedia and no school books, cycling, watching movie in the college campus (cable TV by then was not popular), visiting engineering labs full of boilers and machines such as lathes, drilling machine, etc and last but not the least a pack containing 10 differently colored, button shaped candies. What more do you need?

So that was Poppins uncle to me and to this day, I call him by the same name, though both of us have grown in the past 19 years or so. A couple of weeks back when I saw him at a family function after a long long gap, found that he had grown old, could see wrinkles on his face, hair gone white and he had adorned all the symbols of aging. That's natural, but what I liked about him is that still he is youthful at heart.

True to his keen appreciation for books and keeping in mind the childhood days, he had gifted my elder brother, a book on the eve of his marriage. I even overheard what he transpired to my brother when he handed over the gift in the crowd of guests who had gathered for the reception party.

'I am really proud of you and the kind of individual you have grown up to. Work hard, be smart and make sure that you have a nice life ahead with your partner for life. I also recommend you to open this pack and there is something special inside this. Make sure to read 'this' when you settle back at Chicago'.

Later on, when my brother opened the pack, it was this, a book. Just shows how thoughtful someone can be. Perfect cursive writing.

Imagining India

And there was another small pack, and it had 20 packs of Poppins. A small note was there saying that it was for us brothers. It said 'Even today, the taste of orange, lemon, strawberry, black currant or the pineapple flavored sugary buttons of Poppins is the same, what it was when you were kids.'

Still the words keep resonating in my mind.

Because we live in an age of gross accumulation, flash and displayism. Anything big and showy when it comes to gifting draws more attention. Think 'Bada Hai Toh Behtar Hai', it's the size, the bigness that matters AD from Videocon. But still there are things that generate more compassion and warm sensitivity when it comes to gifting. All it needs to select one of those are attitude, an attitude to embrace the good things of life and in a wordless way of telling someone how much they mean to you or what you think of him/her/them.

This brings to my mind, an unforgettable gift, that one of my friends, a retired newsman and reporter, GV Krishnan had given his friend, Kini. Can you make a wild guess what was that? It was a B2B gift. I know your mind would have thought Business-2-Business for the word B2B, but it stands for Blog-2-Blog. It's the tale of two friends who are now in two different corners of the world but started their career in reporting decades back traveling round the globe.

Kini and I had lost touch with each other when we were still young, wild and experimenting in London. When reconnected, we found ourselves wizened by age, hassles of living, and, in Kini's case, by an incurable ailment. Our re-connect dates back to a mail from him well over a year back, informing me of a change of address. He had shifted base from London (where he had spent four decades) to a chalet bungalow in Herne Bay, Kent - "a geriatric land where one is more likely to see dear old ones scooting around on electric-scooters than young lads on noisy motorbikes". The real message was in Kini's sign-off line that read - 'Uncertainty and hope fills my life at present'.

The complete B2B series is here. Check those, perfect tapestry with words.

Now since this is the time of the year, when people exchange gifts, what gift are you giving me? A pack of Poppins, 'Doooin kya'

Keep reading and remain connected.

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At 10:21 PM, Blogger Atish said...

ah ! u made my day ...
first post of urs that im reading...
i think i will want to come back :)

At 6:23 AM, Blogger Lakshmi Bharadwaj said...

wow, really nostalgic!!! And your uncle seems to be such a nice man, for one thing, his writing is perfect! Just the right kind of gift, a book, i think. Oh yes, and that post of Mr. GVK for his friend was also one of my favorites too!! Really great post, I loved it!


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